Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What We’ve Been Using For School This Year

Well guys, I’m getting stuff done around the house -- but in fits of starts and stops. So a couple things are close to reveal time. But not there yet.
I think once Blake wraps up his semester at work, we’ll finally get the finishing details on the kitchen crossed off and done.
And other than that I’ve been working on the garden. I added a couple things this year and so that’s the hold up on showing you. My extra pots aren’t in yet. (Well that, and I just stuck the seeds in the ground so it’s mostly still dirt with just a couple started plans in there. It might not be exciting to see yet.)
But man have I been LOVING planting! It took so long for spring to come this year, so I’m just reveling in it.
I’ve also been adding things to the flower bed in the front yard. A few spring bulbs and I’m trying out a few annual seeds in there….Fingers crossed that…1) they grow 2) they look right where I put them. I’m still learning. Either way I’m super excited!

But while you continue to patiently wait for me to show you anything of excitement around here. I thought I’d actually finish that post about the homeschool stuff we did this year.

If you don’t homeschool, you can of course skip this post. But there are a couple things you might still be interested in either way -- so whatever you think. 

It’s perhaps an odd time of year to write this post, as school is coming to a close for most. But that means I can give you a better take on how these things went for us. And if you homeschool, you can consider the info over the summer.

So here goes:

The cool thing about homeschool is how much you can adjust it to fit you. At first that can be VERY overwhelming because there are ENDLESS choices. And that can feel like drowning when you don’t know what you are doing.
When I was choosing kindergarten curriculum  for the first time I can’t tell you how much effort that took shifting through ALL THE CHOICES. There are so many styles and options inside each style. I read and read and read….And then what I picked, it turned out not to fit us that great. whomp whomp. It was ok, I still thought it was a good program. But it just didn’t fit us in the right places. (The math was too easy, and the reading was too hard. And the extras just didn’t feel like us -- or at least me.) (For other kids I’m sure it’s great.) But I suspect that is normal -- especially with a box curriculum. And it was a great jumping off point. It really did help clarify what we liked and didn’t like. (It didn’t happen overnight, but we kept adjusting course until it made sense.)

So the stuff I’m sharing today is stuff we’ve found for us. Some of it might inspire you, and some of it may totally NOT appeal to you or work for you.
And as always, some of it we might just swap out as we go along and change.

So that said let me start with the stuff you might life even if you’re not homeschooling. That way you can check out after that, if you want.

In my last blog post I shared about Artventure -- that’s a great tool, and totally usable outside of homeschool.

A friend pointed me to Sarah Mackenzie and her blog called Read-Aloud Revival.
She homeschools, but her blog’s platform is that in any life situation reading aloud to your kids is one of the best ways to form solid connections as a family and create good memories and prepare kids for success. (So this is for all families.)
She has A LOT of resources on her website, like a great free booklist to point you towards great choices to read with your kids. (There’s a link at the top of her homepage -- where it says: “Get the free booklist: Join 80,000+ subscribers”).
She’s got a new book coming out about why and how to read aloud to your kids.
She’s got a podcast. 
And tons of helpful blog posts.

We like to start out our homeschool day with the kids listening to me read to them. And per one of Sarah’s tips -- the best way I’ve found to get them excited about this is letting them use stickers (i can find some cool sticker booklets at the dollar store a lot of times -- and I’ll stock up) or color while I read. I used to think the only way for kids to hear a story is to sit still and listen -- and, well, that didn’t equal kids who wanted to listen. But I just didn’t know. Seeing Sarah explain it totally opened up my world and my kids too.

If you’re not homeschooling you might want to check out of the blog post now. But you can still hang out if you want. This history curriculum could very easily be added to your general read-aloud books if you like history.
We’ve been using Beautiful Feet Books - History Through Literature.

As someone who really admire’s the Charlotte Mason concept of homeschool (But isn’t a sticker about it.) I find the idea of history through literature ideal.
I base that on looking at my own self in school. When we would read our history texts books I would retain nothing, because it meant nothing to me, it was just dates and facts. (And I don’t retain numbers very well at all.) BUT in my texts books back then, about once a chapter there would be an extra little box -- inside they would speak in story form. And those boxes would transport me back in time, I found it so interesting, and I would remember it like glue and I loved it. (And usually that part was not on our tests! Go figure.)
As an adult, recently (in the past two years or so) I've fallen in love with history through literature. If I can see history as people, well then it’s just a sea of intrigue, and I just would love to know every bit of it. Honestly I crave it these days because I feel so enriched getting that kind insight. So I figure all that’s applicable to my kids as well. Humans are creatures made for stories.

Now, on a decision note: I found history to be the hardest thing to decide on. Many homeschool choices let history be the “spine” of the curriculum -- meaning you can teach different age ranges the same chunk of history at the same time (digging deeper as they get older) and so they let that kinda form the group portion of school and let it influence other parts of the schooling. So it felt like a big deal choosing where to start.
 I also live in a University town, surrounded by academic thinkers. So I can feel extra social pressure on all schooling fronts, but history has it’s own unique issues. I’ve seen and heard a lot of varying opinions on how to do history with kids. Some people are staunchly opposed to starting with US history, because they want their kids to think globally and know that the USA isn’t the center of the universe. Some people are wanting to make EXTREMELY certain that inside of American History we don’t white wash our national sins.
Both those concepts are lovely to me, and I totally agree.
When I had to sit down and deiced what I’m doing. I had to think about the hearts that live inside my house. And I will tell you, that my kids have sensitive souls. (Case in point, we accidentally read the one of additional" Little House On The Prairie” books, not written by Laura Ingalls Wilder,  where it talks about her baby brother dying. (Didn’t see that coming. Would have skipped that book.) My oldest cried the ENTIRE night. Wept.  And she needed to talk about it for something like two weeks, and then some.)
    History, is brutal. It just is. Humans have been awful to each other in so many ways. And my kids aren’t ready for how entirely brutal it is. And I’m ok with that emotional vulnerability right now. And I’m also ok with them learning history’s brutality when they are ready. We’ve touched on the starting points, but we haven’t dug in deep at 7 and 5 years old.
   So in my thinking, American History (while Definitely NOT perfect, at all) is less aggressively violent than more ancient history.  So that’s why I went with American History, despite the strong idea that global thinking is good.
   As far as not white washing goes. I’m doing my best. But I’m also not making that the focus of our lessons. We discuss wrongs when we see them. We try to read stories from the perspective of either side of fences we come across. And we talk about that in kid sized portions. But I’m also not trying to bog down their worlds. They are super loving kids, so focusing on hate is too much.
    I’m happy with what we’re doing for us.

I have been using Beautiful Feet’s Early American History Primary Pack.
However, I didn’t purchase this pack. I’m using the book list as a reading guide, by getting those books at the library. (And we’ve also added in other stuff I’ve noticed that looks good off the shelves when I’m getting things.)
I’ve had Blake get me a few of these harder to find book’s from the University’s Library -- which has been handy because some of the books aren’t the easiest to find.
I’m not using the study guide at all. Just reading the books and some times adding in extras when we are excited. And we’ve all been loving it. Jasmine says her favorite subject is history. And honestly it’s my favorite to teach.
     When we read Pilgrim Stories by Margaret Blanche (found a Free PDF book online) I learned so much. It was probably my favorite book choice off the list. When I was a kid, we pretty much: made pilgrim hats, learned they came to America, the end. But in reading this book we they started with their lives in England for a few chapters, we went with them to Amsterdam, and spent tons of time with them on their journey and getting accustomed to life in a new world. And along the way we did a lot of googling on the side. I honestly didn’t know anything about Amsterdam, so as we read about the streets made of waterways, the fields of tulips, the windmills, we googled. It was so fun.
To offset the story we added in a few books from the perspective of Squanto. The best one being "Squanto’s Journey.” (I didn’t know Squanto had been captured as a salve before returning home to America, and yet still helped the Pilgrams. Again -- wasn’t taught that stuff as a kid. But this book made it child comprehendible and emotionally appropriate for their age.)
   We skipped the Matchlock Gun. It seemed like it could be too much for us. (Maybe it’s not. But I just skipped it based on looking at the book description.)
   We are currently at Abraham Lincoln.
I’ve been pretty happy with the books.
A few are a little bland -- which surprised me -- since the point of the curriculum is non-bland history.
If I do it again later, I think I’d swap out a few for better choices. Mainly:
 "A More Perfect Union” -- that was barely story-form -- more textbook like than the rest. I’d definitely look to see what else we could read. Maybe the signing of the Declaration of Independence is just a bit too advanced a topic for this age range to really discuss a whole lot more than it happened and was important. I don’t know. But I’d skip that book next time and do it differently.
  "George Washington’s Breakfast" was a little cute, but could easily be skipped. It was a book about a boy wanting to learn what George Washington had for breakfast.
 “The forth of July Story” was a little dull, but tolerable. I’d probably look around before jumping right to it again.
 But for me “The Year of The Horseless Carriage 1801” was the strangest book in the mix. It is JAM PACKED full of information in a way that we hadn’t experienced yet -- it covered things happening over a lot of the world -- jumping around without much explanation. (Stuff I could process fine -- but things the kids weren’t following well -- they wouldn’t have followed it at all without lots of stopping and map looking and explaining I had to add.)  It name dropped like crazy -- talking about Napoleon, Beethoven, Lewis and Clark & Sacajawea, Toussaint, Robert Fulton and a lot more without doing much explanation on some of the people. It tried to fit in gobs of facts, and dates, and happenings. And just kinda felt like an odd duck in this book line up. In the other books we had focused in much closer on persons, places and events. I mean it’s an intresting book -- but it just didn’t feel like the other books at all. So we read it, but I didn’t expect the kids to retain it. It was my biggest head scratcher in this set of books. I wasn’t sure why it was included. I learned some stuff. But I’d book shop this chunk of time next go around. Maybe throw this book into older grades if it made sense to do so.
   So we just have 3 books left to look at and we are done. We’ll see how much we like those ones.

The website says it can be a one or two year study. We’ll have it done in one year. But I didn’t used the course guide.

I haven’t decided what we will do next. I’m about to sit down and consider. I’m leaning towards doing more world history next. But I could keep forging ahead after Lincoln and do more American History. We’ll see.

But I know I’m happy with starting out here for us -- especially since hearing my kids talk so fondly about history. I’d love to be able to keep their love of learning alive throughout their schooling.

For science I’ve gone the Charlotte Mason route thus far.
I asked my husband (A College Lecturing Professor) his thoughts on this before I proceeded. I was kinda nervous to go this direction because it’s quite different than the public schools. But he was all in favor, as he feels it cultivates a scientific mind, with curiosity fueling discovery.
With Charlotte Mason, in the lower grades science is nature based. After that is when you get into the science facts and heavy stuff.
I don’t know it just resonated with me and my thoughts on childhood, as well as just personally being always inspired by nature’s beauty.
So for this year I’ve gotten the “Pond and Stream Companion” and we are going through that. As well as using our Nature Study Notebooks we are making. (Our favorite of this was of course when we found caterpillars and let them pupate! I was every bit (or more) excited than the kids.

Again, I haven’t decided what we will do next. I do have a hard time trusting this is enough science, while still really admiring the concept. So I’ll be wrestling that out soon.

We love Singapore Math.
I really let Blake take the lead here, because math is not my subject, and it definitely is his. But when I brought it up, I did specifically show him Singapore math because it seemed like something that, had I used in school, I would have actually understood math somewhat. (Math always went right over my head in school.)
He really liked what he saw so we went for it.
And I gotta be honest, sitting along side the kids while they do it, has improved my math reasoning. It’s set up in a really cool way -- the concrete, pictorial, abstract - building on each level. It’s been very good for me to relearn in this fashion. It’s something I didn’t anticipate happening -- myself learning alongside them, but very much appreciate it.
For Kindergaten we used their cheep basic books.
The older grades have a lot of choices, we picked the U.S. Edition.
And this kids have never complained about doing math. They genuinely enjoy it. They are doing very well with it. And I find them naturally looking for Math in everyday moments and regularly discussing how it works. It’s pretty cool.

My oldest has not come by reading easily. And up until this year we’ve tried a bunch of things, we were making progress, but nothing was really working. Like we just couldn’t find the “click” or “ah ha” --it was just all painful, begrudging, kind-of-sort-of progress. But I could tell it wasn’t actually making any sense to her -- she was just muscling through and kinda pretending she was doing it, as best as she could. I’ve recently started looking into dyslexia and feel we may be dealing with a mild form of it.

When looking at Sarah's Read-Aloud-Revial’s blog (I talked about before) she said if she could go back in time she would have used "All About Reading" for all her kids instead of trying other harder ways with her older kids.
I went for it.
All About Reading is not cheap. But they have a full money back (besides shipping), after a whole year (you used up the stuff and everything), guarantee. (Must be purchased from their website.)
So I figured, what the heck, we need something to help us.

Honestly, it’s been wonderful.
I have seen SO MUCH improvement in my oldest. And while she still whines a lot of days, we are definetly past that “this just doesn’t make sense” spot, and things are really starting to come together. She’s actually been whining less and less as we go along. And she’s been reading more and more outside of school time. I still think we are behind her age range, but we are definitely moving towards average reading level. I know we would not have made this kind of progress without it.
And my five year old is doing great with it. She especially loves the cutting out activities and games.

It’s set up really well. It’s been so great for us. I couldn’t be more grateful for it.
Actually, after I started looking into dyslexia I learned that this program is set up in the most suitable method for learning to read with dyslexia -- imagine my relief when I knew I already owned the right thing and was headed in the right direction without fully knowing it yet.

I bought Level 1 for both girls, and at the beginning of the year my five year old couldn't keep up. So I let her go back to some more basic “Go for the Code” workbooks we had before we did any more. But after that break she was ready to go and has been doing great.
Side note: We also ordered Ziggy (He’s the puppet mascot for All About Reading -- we ordered it separate, because he doesn’t automatically come with the numbered levels-- my kids get so into puppets. He motivates them so much, it’s kinda hilarious. They like to talk about how he’s not real, while yet talking to him like he is. It’s cute. He’s a big motivator.

Anyway -- I won’t be asking for my money back on this program. I will be ordering the next level very soon.
Honestly, it’s very easy for me to do -- it’s set up well. After the initial first day of looking through of the program when it arrives, really all you have to do is pick up the manual and go every day.
If you aren’t homeschooling, but feel like your child might need a boost in learning to read I’d say this would be a great way to go. You could add it in 15 minute chunks to your evenings and see some huge improvements.


I got "Handwriting Without Tears” -- honestly the only reason I did this was because my VERY literal daughter was trying to copy computer font when writing and so I was looking for something to break that habit. I just got the workbook -- none of the extras. We finished the printing book, and I’ve been having her just write for practice on lined paper. I have the cursive book next. (I know schools are kinda ditching cursive these days, but I want them to learn it.) But I think I’ll save it for 3rd grade -- since that’s why I did cursive as a kid.

I got “Telling God’s Story: Meeting Jesus” (Teacher’s Manuel and Activity Pages) because, as I mentioned before some of the Old Testament is honestly just really confusing and not really child appropriate -- I learned the stuff as kids in church, but when you think about it, it’s heavy.  So I like the idea of starting with Jesus.
Honestly I’ve let this part of school fall to the wayside for a while, because I know we are learning Bible stuff on Sundays and Wednesdays and I’ve had to budget our school time a bit, when talking toddler antics -- meaning school happens when naps happen. But I like the program and plan to go back to it.

Picture Study:
We got one of Simply Charlotte Mason’s Picture Study Portfolios, specifically James Whistler.
Honestly I haven’t gotten to this yet, but I am looking forward to it.

Spanish: We got a super cheap Spanish workbook we do sometimes. But It’s not really ideal. We’ve barely used it. I’d like to figure out something better. It’s hard when we are not up to reading spanish yet and I don’t speak it. But the kids are interested in learning it. So I’m not really sure what to do. (Any suggestions?)

We’ve read Robert Louis Stevenson at times throughout the year.
We also like the Complete Book of Flower Fairies by Cicley Mary Barker to mix it up sometimes. (The girls of course appreciate all things Fairies.)

(Charlotte Mason doesn’t like the idea of crafts for craft sake, but learning useful skills, which I think is cool.)
So far the girls have learned how to chain stitch crochet. And they like those old school rubberband looms. They even figured out (on their own!) how to connect the squares together to make a quilt. Pretty cool.
And Jasmine actually taught herself how to knit recently. She’s left handed, and I’m right handed, so I did my best to show her but then just kinda stopped because she was overwhelmed. But she went back on her own and got it. I’m not sure it’s totally right -- but she’s making little squares!

So that’s what we’ve been doing this year. Hopefully you found this post interesting and or helpful.
I’ll try to get some more home related things posted soon!
Thanks for hanging out in the mean time.


  1. Check out Duo Lingo for Spanish. It's a free app.

    For Bible- we don't homeschool, but I like the Jesus Storybook Bible and the Gospel Storybook Bible. Both of them tell the old testament stories but specifically point out how each story points to Jesus. This is really helpful for me as an adult even. I would say the Gospel Storybook is more mature, though I do read it to my 6 and 2 year old.

    1. Thank you!

      We do have the Jesus Storybook Bible, and love it. I agree it's helpful even as an adult. (I'm terribly annoying when reading it out loud because I'm constantly stopping to attempt to refrain from crying. 😆🙈) I need to check out the other one now.

      I've heard good things about duo lingo but (perhaps wrongly) assumed my daughter would need to be a stronger reader to use it. But I should still look into it and see, for sure.

  2. I do duo lingo with my kindergartner. He is reading well, but can't do it on his own yet. But he enjoys doing it together. He gets Spanish in school every day, so it helps me keep up with him.

    My brilliant friend Angie has this blog full of creative ideas for teaching writing k-5:


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